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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (7c/7)

December 29th, 2013 (03:02 pm)
hot

feeling: hot

MASTER POST



Michael turns off the water, reaching his arm out of the shower to find his towel. He starts to dry off, stepping out into the spacious bathroom. The marble floors are heated, and Michael reaches across the granite countertop to clean a spot away on the custom mirrors.

It’s all a bit much, in truth, and Michael’s learned to make do with simple things but he’s not one to turn his nose up at creature comforts. The house he’d shared with Fay back in Virginia had been modest, and his quarters at the Shatterdome had been small and minimalistic. Which makes this so much more remarkable.

5000 square feet, mid-20th century design. The open concept has been renovated in the early 2000s, features elite fine touches. There are four bedrooms, two of which are master suites, and each bathroom is equipped with upscale finishes. His bathroom has a walk-in steam shower and a full-sized Jacuzzi tub.

All overlooking the ocean.

Yes, Michael bought oceanfront property, sitting right on the cliffs and looking out over the water. The entire house is built to feature the views, and they’re nothing short of spectacular.

Drying off, Michael dresses quickly, snagging a few items from the massive walk-in closet. His drab wardrobe barely fills a fraction of it, but he’s okay with that.

Wearing a pair of sweat pants, he makes his way out through the bedroom, walking barefoot across the high gloss cherry floors. In the kitchen, he opens his double-wide stainless steel refrigerator. It’s not well stocked, although the pantry is brimming with as many canned goods as Michael has been able to horde. He picks out a can of beans and dumps them in a pan on his chef’s stove top. He starts cooking before pouring himself a cup of coffee.

Taking a sip, he takes his tablet and goes to door. He opens the door and steps out onto the patio. It’s a beautiful day in LA, and Michael considers going for a swim in his infinity pool.

Of course, he’d have to get it cleaned first.

Which means he’d have to find someone still cleaning pools this far out.

Oceanfront property isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. In fact, it’s mostly worthless. There are a few eccentric holdouts, but most of the houses sit vacant on the bluffs. The wealthy have all flocked inland to the mountains, trading their views for underground shelters that can outlast a nuclear winter.

Michael got this place especially cheap since it was damaged in one of the attacks on LA a few years prior. Half the neighborhood had been leveled when one of the support planes went down. No one had bothered to rebuild.

Sighing, Michael sits down on the porch furniture. Their loss, his gain. Michael doesn’t care too much about the luxuries, but he likes the view. It’s what he needs to stay in tune with the action in the Pacific.

And this home is perfectly located. Not only is he close enough to the Shatterdome to visually track its progress, but he’s close enough to maintain his few remaining contacts inside. He’s even managed to piggyback his internet service off the Shatterdome, which helps him keep on top of the information he needs to monitor the progress against the Kaiju as best he can.

Plus, he can see the wall. It’s starting to stretch across the coast, an impressive, massive structure.

Michael has to wonder if he’ll be here to see it fall.

He knows it will fall. Michael’s not sure of much, but he is sure of that. He’s not sure when the Kaiju will attack again; he’s not even sure what the Kaiju really want. But he doesn’t doubt that the final conflict is coming.

And now, more than ever, he’s not sure who will win.

-o-

Michael doesn’t have a job anymore, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working. In fact, he’s probably working harder than ever before. His office is his house; his job is his life. There are no long any boundaries between the personal and professional.

It’s a simple life, in some ways. He bought his oceanfront property with cash, and has been living off his savings ever since. He invests heavily in rations, stocking his cupboard so he rarely has to leave. Computer parts and electronics are a bit harder to find, but he’s resourceful and he has connections. Getting internet access is a feat, but it’s well worth it.

Michael can work here and live here, until the end of the world.

Or, as he hopes, until he helps save it.

-o-

There’s a lot to do.

He started in one of the spare bedrooms, putting up maps and lists. He makes comprehensive overviews, charting Kaiju incursions by location, size, and time. He maps attacks via their distance from the breech, looking for refined patterns in the modes and directions of the attacks.

When that bedroom is full, he starts in the next, poring over scientific data and culling the best thoughts from the thinkers the PPDC has no time for. A lot of them are crackpots, but sometimes Michael finds a brilliant insight and he adds it to the mix. He covers the walls with pictures and graphs, showing Kaiju and their proportionate growth, cross referenced to how and where they attacked.

By the time he starts in the third bedroom, he’s seeing patterns where no one else has; he’s devising battle plans that the PPDC hasn’t even considered. He listens to piggybacked feeds of Kaiju attacks and finds as much footage as he possibly can. As he goes to hang his latest document, he realizes he’s out of space.

For a moment, he thinks this is crazy. He thinks it’s all for nothing. He’s compiling data no one will ever read; he’s working hard on a project no one will listen to. Maybe he’s lost it; maybe he’s well and truly gone insane.

He looks at the paper; he looks at the wall.

There’s still more to learn. So much more to do.

It may be crazy, but someone has to do it.

Before it’s too late.

Decided, he moves to the living room. Sighing, he pushes a pin into the wall and starts all over again.

-o-

Michael doesn’t have much reason to go out, and to tell the truth, he’d really rather not. There’s too much to do. He’s too busy saving the damn world to enjoy it.

This is mostly fine, as there is no one around to bother him about the fact that he’s becoming a reclusive hermit.

However, when Rick finds out Michael hasn’t left the house in a week, he insists on taking Michael out for lunch.

The idea of it is less than appealing, but Michael’s been living on rations so long that the idea of a semi-fresh meal is somewhat enticing.

As he’s sitting in a restaurant, warily watching the crowds, he’s less certain. Rick is prattling on, but Michael can’t help but watch people go about their lives, eating and talking and laughing as if nothing is wrong.

It’s mind-boggling, really. Michael can’t even imagine that life goes on like this when there’s a massive fissure in the middle of the Pacific, waiting to unleash living hell on earth.

They have no idea.

Or worse, they don’t care.

Ignorance is one thing when it is truly unavoidable. When it’s chosen…

“Michael?” Rick says.

Michael startles a bit, looking to Rick again. “What?”

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” Rick asks.

Michael takes a sip of his drink. “Sure, you’re talking about changing the hardware on your mom’s cabinets,” he says, putting his drink down. “But I got to say, I don’t think you’ll get your money’s worth out of it. The real estate’s too far down in this area; you’ll just be throwing your cash away.”

Rick’s brow furrows. “How do you do that?”

“Well, it’s simple logic—“

“No,” Rick says. “How do you ignore me for five minutes and then know exactly what I’m saying?”

At this, Michael chuckles. “I can multitask,” he says. “Jaeger pilots, they exist wholly in the drift and that’s all there is. The rest of us have to actually deal with multiple things at once. It’s not all instinct.”

Rick frowns. “I’m not a Jaeger pilot anymore.”

Michael shrugs. “Which is why you’re switching out hardware on your mom’s cabinets.”

Rick’s expression is exasperated now. “I think you’ve gotten more insane since you left the PPDC.”

Michael grunts. “I could comment about you—“

“But you’d be avoiding the issue,” Rick says.

Eyebrows up, Michael asks. “What issue?”

“If you’re okay!”

Michael is almost too startled to speak. “I’m fine—“

Rick gives him a look. “You didn’t go outside for a week,” he says. “And you don’t talk to people for days at a time—“

“Well, there’s a lot of work to do—“

“Sure,” Rick says. “But you’re not the only person who needs to do it—“

“I am,” Michael interjects forcefully. “I mean, who do we think is going to do it? The PPDC? The idiots who shut down the Jaeger program and laid off the brightest thinkers on the planet? They’re not going to save us, Rick.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

The question is simple and pointed, and Michael wants to scoff until he realizes he doesn’t have an answer.

That’s the thing he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what he’s even looking for; he doesn’t know who will listen to him when he finds it. He doesn’t know what he’ll be able to do with his answers.

Michael doesn’t know.

He needs to save the world and he doesn’t know how.

His shoulders slump, and he shakes his head. “I have to try,” he says. “I mean, if not me…”

Rick’s face turn sympathetic. “I know you care,” he says gently. “Just remember you aren’t doing this alone.”

“But the PPDC—“

Rick rolls his eyes. “I’m not talking about the PPDC,” he says. “I mean, I do live in LA. And it’s not like I have a lot of other things to do.”

Michael narrows his eyes. “Are you offering to help?”

“Why not?” Rick says.

“Jaeger pilots don’t usually bother themselves with the science,” Michael says skeptically.

“Well, like I said,” Rick says. “I’m not a Jaeger pilot anymore.”

Michael regards him critically. It’s hard for him to trust people, even those he cares about. He’s seen too many people fall; too many leaders make mistakes. It’s easy to forget that he’s not alone.

Finally, he nods. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll let you know.”

Rick grins, apparently satisfied. “Great!” he says. “Because I’ve been going crazy—“

Michael huffs. “And here I thought you cared.”

“I do,” Rick says quickly. “But if I can kill two birds with one stone…”

Michael rolls his eyes. “As long as you keep buying lunch, you can come over whenever you want.”

-o-

Things go faster after that. He meets Rick once a week, and the kid stops by from time to time to help him put a human perspective on his cold, hard facts. It’s sometimes annoying, but Michael finds the insights useful.

They’re making progress.

He looks out at the ocean, and hopes it’s enough.

-o-

Rick comes over when the Kaiju attacks Tokyo. The kid is paled faced while Michael tunes his equipment to pick up feeds. No one is more relieved when the Kaiju falls with minimal damage to the city.

“He’s okay, you know,” Michael says. “He’s survived two Kaiju already. He’s a lucky bastard.”

Rick is sullen. “Or his luck has run out.”

“Not Billy,” Michael says with a reassuring pat on the arm. “Not yet.”

-o-

When Billy finally calls in the morning, Rick is asleep. Michael takes the call and listens to Billy’s plans. He’s leaving Tokyo; he’s leaving the Pacific. He’s leaving with Olivia.

“Just stay in touch, okay?” Michael says. “You’ve got the kid all worried.”

“Things were a bit busy last night,” Billy says.

“Well, sounds like that won’t be a problem anymore,” Michael points out.

“No,” Billy says, and Michael can hear a contentment in his voice, a quiet maturity he’s never heard from the Scot before. “I reckon it won’t.”

When he hangs up, he looks over to Rick.

Suddenly, more than he expects, Michael is relieved.

-o-

Michael’s no scientist, but he can see the pattern.

Kaiju are getting bigger, stronger, faster.

Human resistance is getting smaller, weaker, stronger.

All the data points this direction. It’s downright overwhelming – they’re running out of time.

For the first time in Michael’s life, he doesn’t have any plan to deal with that.

-o-

When Casey calls, it’s something of a surprise.

“Since when do you call just to talk?” Michael asks.

Casey snorts. “How do you know there’s not something I want?”

“Since when is there something you need help with?”

“Touché,” Casey says.

Michael scrubs a hand over his face, noticing that he hasn’t shaved in what seems like a week. “Where are you anyway?”

“That’s irrelevant right now,” Casey says. “I just need to know if you’re kept up your work?”

Michael tilts his head. “And that’s relevant?”

“It might be,” Casey says.

“Secrecy doesn’t become you, Malick.”

Casey grunts. “And civilian life doesn’t suit you,” he counters.

“Do you have something to change that?” Michael asks.

“As of now, no,” Casey says. “But keep working. And I’ll get back to you.”

“Wait a second,” Michael say, feeling annoyed now. “All our years together, and you’re going to give me cryptic crap like that?”

“It sucks, doesn’t it?” Casey asks. “Being outside the need-to-know.”

“We’re a team,” Michael hits back.

“Exactly,” Casey says. “So trust me on this one.”

“You’re asking a lot—“

Casey laughs wryly. “It’s not like you have anything better to do.”

-o-

Rick keeps visiting; he brings cookies from his mom. Billy texts from an unknown location in Europe. Casey doesn’t call again.

The world soldiers on.

-o-

A Kaiju emerges from the breach. Michael’s not sure what day it is; he’s not even sure what time it is. But he scrambles to his equipment, doing his best to track it. It’s headed to South America. Panama’s last remaining Jaeger is dispatched. Striker Eureka is deployed as a secondary measure.

The Kaiju destroys six miles of coastline. When it’s over, there is no more Jaeger in Panama.

-o-

The world is on edge; more people start to flee the coast. The wall stretches along the Oceanside, waves crashing against it.

It’s not enough.

None of it is going to be enough.

-o-

Michael works harder. He sleeps less. When Rick comes to visit, he realizes he hasn’t eaten or showered. He forgets to respond to Billy’s texts. Casey doesn’t call.

“Getting yourself killed won’t help anyone,” Rick admonishes.

“Dying now, dying later,” Michael mutters, sorting through the papers. “I’m not sure it’ll make any difference.”

-o-

He’s losing control, and he’s just barely sane enough to know it.

Michael can see the end coming. He can prove it fifty different ways. He knows all the theories; he’s envisioned all the endgames.

There’s just no way to stop it.

Not for some crazy ex-PPDC holed up in an abandoned home near the coast.

There’s nothing Michael can do.

But watch it end.

-o-

After that, he stops trying. He turns off his monitors and doesn’t answer his phone. He sits on his deck and watches the wall being built, wonders how long it’ll take before it falls.

Before everything falls.

At night, when he dreams of the end of the world, it is almost a relief.

-o-

When the doorbell rings, Michael ignores it.

When it rings again, he glares.

When it rings a third time, he huffs toward it. “You have a key, Martinez, so I don’t know what the hell—“

It’s not Martinez, though.

There, on the other side of the door, is Fay.

She looks nervous, clad in jeans and a blue sweater. Her curls are a little messy, the way she used to wear them back when they were married. Her brown eyes go wide, and for a minute she looks like she wants to turn away.

She doesn’t, though.

“Hi,” she says, offering him a flustered smile.

He doesn’t exactly know what to do.

She hesitates awkwardly. “So, um,” she continues, peeking around him a little. “Can I come inside?”

-o-

He lets her in, partly because he doesn’t know what else to do and really, it’s Fay. He’s usually the one pursuing her; now that she’s here, he’s not inclined to turn her away.

Still, when she gets inside, he realizes it might have been a hasty decision. He’s been living mostly as a crazy recluse and not even Martinez’s presence has done much to improve the state of his once-luxurious home. The rooms are thick with dust, not that anyone could tell with all the things he’s accumulated since he left the PPDC.

Not just papers and pictures. But empty food packets and random articles of clothing. He’s sort of stopped doing laundry, and the modern décor that had come with the place is almost entirely covered. As he leads her in toward the living room, he makes a hasty attempt to clean up but ultimately just shovels a pile of things on the floor for her to sit down.

He looks at her sheepishly, gesturing to the couch. “Been kind of busy.”

She raises her eyebrows, sitting down cautiously. “I can see that.”

He clears his throat awkwardly, pushing a stack of papers to the ground so he can sit in one of the chairs. “I haven’t had much company either,” he admits.

Fay nods. “Imagine that.”

Michael is too chagrined to even glare. “Well, it’s not just me,” he says. “Most people don’t like to come this far out.”

“Well this is part of the recommended evacuation zone,” she points out.

Michael snorts. “Imagine that,” he says. “They tell us to trust the wall but still move everyone away from the coast.”

“It’s a precaution—“

Michael gives her a look.

She stops short, sighing. “That’s not really why I’m here.”

“Oh?” he asks. “Just coming for a visit.”

“This isn’t just a social call,” she replies with a roll of her eyes. She hesitates. “I’ve been worried about you.”

It’s his turn to raise his eyebrows. “You? Worried about me?”

Her concern fades into annoyance. “You don’t exactly have a lot of people around to make sure you don’t go completely insane.”

“Martinez comes around,” he says.

She glances about the room. “Looks like that’s going well.”

“Well, I’m just trying to track the information,” Michael says. “Since the PPDC has scaled back the Jaeger program, it’s let go some of the best thinkers. This kind of data can’t be ignored.”

“They still have a Kaiju research division,” Fay says.

“Yeah, you and your chosen few—“

She huffs. “I wouldn’t know,” she says primly. “I’m not there anymore.”

At this, Michael stops, his brow furrowing. “Wait, they fired you?”

She straightens her shoulders. “We came to a mutual decision.”

“They’re even dumber than I thought,” Michael says with a shake of his head. “So you should understand why I'm doing this. I mean, I didn’t stay at the PPDC for the paycheck – and neither did you. What we did was important, and it can’t stop just because funding stops.”

“So you think locking yourself in a house and amassing data is going to help?” she asks doubtfully. “I mean, can you even make sense of all this?”

“I have a system,” Michael says.

“But nothing to do with it,” she insists. “This is insane, Michael.”

“This is necessary—“

“Not the way you’re doing it,” she argues.

Michael is too tired, too worn, too overburdened to take this well. He’s dealt with crap – a lot of crap – but this is the end of the whole damn world. “I don’t have another way of doing it,” he says defensively.

She draws a measured breath and then nods. “What if you did?”

He’s so set on arguing that her question takes him off guard. “What?”

She leans forward, earnest now. “What if there was another way?”

He narrows his eyes, tilting his head. “Are you saying there is?”

She is cautious suddenly, sitting back coolly. “Maybe.”

It’s a deception, the kind Michael remembers from his time with the CIA. It’s the back and forth of people who live double lives, who work jobs people can’t know about, of protecting the truth in the form of a lie.

It’s been a long time since he’s lived like that.

He hasn’t realized just how much he’s missed it.

Sitting back, he regains his composure, a small smile playing on his lips. “Well, if there was,” Michael says, crossing his arms over his chest. “I would hope it’s smart enough to recruit the very best.”

She returns his look coyly. “Well, they did hire me,” she says.

Michael chuckles. “And me?”

“I think you might be a good fit,” she says. “Assuming you’re willing to move.”

Michael scoffs. “Away from this?” He gestures to the trashed home. “I can probably live with that.”

“And I can’t tell you much,” she tells him. “Not until we get there.”

“Mystery,” he says. “I like it.”

She rolls her eyes. “You really are just like a child sometimes.”

“Hey, you’re the one who sought me out,” Michael reminds her.

“For your experience,” she says.

“Well, you also said this wasn’t just a social call,” Michael points out.

She shakes her head. “So—“

“So it was a little bit of a social call.”

She realizes her mistake, and her cheeks redden just slightly. “You’re going to make me regret this—“

“You missed me.”

“I have a life beyond you—“

“You’ve been thinking about me.“

“You have expertise—“

“You wanted to see me.”

“We’re divorced!” she exclaims in frustration, but there’s no anger there. Not anymore. There hasn’t been for years, Michael’s just been too busy to notice.

He watches her for a moment, wondering how it came to this. Wondering if the end of the world is just the clarity he needs to make sense of what matters.

At this point, what does he have to lose anyway?

He keeps his gaze steady and feels his confidence rise. This is how he likes to fight, in the end. When he’s done everything he can, he likes to lay it all out on the line because there’s nothing left to lose. This is why he defends the planet.

This is why he’ll make a pass at his ex-wife.

Hail Marys – that might just work.

“Do you remember?” he asks. “Your dating policy, back when we first me.”

Fay frowns at that. “That I don’t date field agents?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “That we should couple up. Commit first; figure out the rest later.”

She watches him, not quite wary. “Yes, well, we both know how that turned out.”

“Ever since the Kaiju made landfall, I’ve been trying to do this on my own,” he says. “But what the team taught me over the last few years is that I don’t work the best alone. I may prefer it, but I’m better off with someone.”

Fay eyes the room. “Clearly…”

“You’re missing my point,” he says. “I’m better off with you.”

She is wholly cautious now, but it says something that she doesn’t reject it outright. “I can’t be an afterthought, Michael,” she tells him. “I deserve better than that. If you’re committed to saving the world, I’m not sure where I fit in.”

“By my side,” Michael says without missing a beat.

“If you’re trying to blackmail me into a relationship so you’ll come—“

“No strings attached,” Michael promises.

Fay chews her lip. “I don’t know.”

“Let me show you then,” he says.

“Wait, does that mean you’ll come?” she asks, sounding hopeful.

He nods. “If you’re in…”

Her caution returns. “This is about the job, Michael,” she warns.

He smiles. “That’s ironic, coming from you.”

She purses her lips, but it’s more show than anything else. “I’m serious.”

“Serious, huh,” Michael says. He rubs his hands on his pants before getting up. “Well, then, we should go.”

Fay looks around, taken off guard. “Wait, you’re ready to go now? Don't you want to pack?”

He waves a hand through the air. “I just need to grab my laptops and the external drive. I’ve been scanning in the hard copies for digital backups, just in case.”

“But what about your personal things?”

“There’s nothing here that means anything,” he says. “Besides, we have work to do. The sooner we start the better.”

She gets to her feet, looking somewhat impressed. “Okay, then,” she says. “I’ll just need to make a few phone calls.”

“I’ll be here,” he says, feeling invigorated. Feeling certain, more than he has in weeks, in months, in years. Because this is hope. He’s not sure why; he’s not sure how. But at this point, he’ll take it.

“Okay, then,” Fay says, sounding flustered.

“Okay,” Michael says, rubbing his hands together as he grins. “Let’s go save the world.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Casey’s the first one up.

He rises before the sun, meditating briefly in the dimness. He eats a quiet breakfast alone before stretching on the floor of his makeshift dorm. The weather is getting colder now, and Casey’s not as young as he used to be. All these years of war have taken their toll, and he can feel the pull ache in his knees as he limbers up for the day.

Now that he’s away from the PPDC, there is room in his routine for the things he wants and he can conduct himself as he sees fit. He sees no need for any type of standardized clothing, and wears a pair of comfortable sweats and tennis shoes as he prepares for his morning exercise.

Although there is freedom, there isn’t much in the way of a gym. While Casey enjoys some of the machines, he has never needed them. He knows enough techniques to keep himself fit, and there are few things more satisfying than a jog.

He sets out, silently at first, the whisk of his sneakers hardly audible as he exits the dormitory. In the open air, he breathes a deep lungful of cold before starting off at a comfortable pace.

By the time he rounds toward the control center, he’s picked up his cadence, feeling his heart start to thrum. His joints start to loosen as he turns around the coastline, following the edge of the water as he heads to the north end of the compound. When he comes to the fence, he takes a sharp turn, following it along as it cuts through the vacant Canadian landscape. This has never been a well inhabited area; less so now, with the Kaiju. It is, however, one of the few coastal areas that has never been attacked by a Kaiju.

Some people think it’s only a matter of time.

Casey grunts as he turns back southward, running along the interior line of the property. It’s not an overly large circuit, but it’s long enough. That’s one reason Casey chose this location: it’s big enough. At one time, it’d been a quarry, although the facilities have been abandoned since the Kaiju war started. Even so, the infrastructure is still usable, and Casey has found plenty of uses for the deep caverns in the ground. And with the proximity to the Pacific, Casey knows he scouted this place perfectly.

Big, secluded, connected, defensible.

It’s the perfect spot.

As he comes around toward the south end, he sees the half-finished project, still being piecemealed together. All the parts are foraged and scavenged, and the help is few and far between. Casey bribed a few engineers and blackmailed a few architects, but they’re getting the job done.

Because over the cavern, the rounded structure is starting to take shape. If anyone asks, Casey tells them it’s an observatory. People think he’s crazy, but no one wants to get close enough to check. Hell, Casey pretty sure no one would believe it even if they did see.

Because deep along the coastline in Northern Canada, away from the scattered cities that are left, Casey’s building a Shatterdome.

And today he’s going to start building a Jaeger.

-o-

Casey can’t get ahead of himself, though. There are still normal daily operations, and not nearly enough people to do it. In the months since he left the PPDC, Casey has managed to procure most of what he needs by sheer determination and force of will alone. Even so, a dozen people trying to erect a makeshift Shatterdome?

It’s a lot of work.

Especially since Casey has mostly recruited people who can build instead of people who do the mundane office work. Normally Casey has little patience for such things, but he finds that most of it falls to him.

He doesn’t like it.

He still does it.

After showering, he puts on a fresh pair of clothes – work pants and a t-shirt with a thick flannel over the top. He manages to find something else edible before moving back out into the yard. By now, other people are starting to rise and Casey can hear the growing hum of machinery as his team starts in on the construction. He knows it’s probably not all up to code, but there’s a reason he’s coerced the best of the best to help him. They know what corners to cut, and which ones to keep.

Even so, Casey feels compelled to start his morning rounds down at the worksite, nodding to a pair of the men before checking in with his master architect. She’s serving as his foreman, and her still damp hair has been pulled back into a haphazard ponytail as she meticulously checks the calibration on one of the more sizable pieces of equipment.

“Everything okay?”

She looks at him, nose wrinkled. “You bring us here and ask us to do these monumental tasks, and then leave us with junk to work with,” she mutters crossly. She kicks the console for good measure. “I can barely make this thing work.”

“If it were easy, I wouldn’t have gotten the best,” Casey reminds her.

She scoffs. “That’s a convenient excuse,” she says. “But I'm serious. If this machine goes, we can’t finish the last portion of the roof. There is no Shatterdome without the dome.”

“Make it work,” Casey says.

“I’ve been making it work,” she protests. “I don’t have enough people; I don’t have enough resources. I have nothing. I’ve burned through my lifesavings and ruined my career coming to help you. I think I deserve better.”

“Save the world,” Casey instructs. “Then you’ll get better.”

She rolls her eyes. “You’re lucky I’m on your side,” she says. “Or this wouldn’t be worth it at all.”

“Saving the world,” Casey says with a shrug. “It’s sort of its own reward.”

-o-

It’s not much of a pep talk, but the people around here are decently self-motivated. Casey would stick around and see what he can do – he’s no builder, but he prefer hands on activities – but he knows he doesn’t really have the time.

Because even secret, off-the-books operations have paperwork.

The end of the world is coming, but damn it all if it’s not going to be properly documented and expensed. These things are inevitable.

They are also the bane of Casey’s existence. He prides himself on being fearless in the face of any foe – a Kaiju barely makes him blink – but running an office…

Well, it’s basically a new kind of hell.

Even so, Casey is disciplined. He’s always been able to force himself into certain things. This is why he’s so good at, well, everything. He doesn’t let his emotions cloud his judgment. He can hate something, but if it is still vital, then he understands its necessity and complies.

Still, he hates it.

He hates keeping records. He hates making phone calls. He hates making lists and double checking the details. He hates facilitating; he hates communicating. He hates it.

Most days, he’d let some of it slide, but not today. There is no such luxury today.

Today is the last visit from Pentecost.

Today is the day this little operation truly goes solo.

-o-

Pentecost is on time, which is entirely how it should be. Stacker Pentecost is not only a damn good pilot, but one of the best strategic leaders in the world. Casey respects many things about the man, and his constancy is certainly part of that. A fixed point, Pentecost likes to call himself.

Casey likens him to a damn island, anchored in a raging sea.

He’s smart; he’s capable; he’s tough.

And he’s sure as hell punctual.

The helicopter lands in an open area, which Casey has set aside as a makeshift landing pad. In time, he thinks they could actually build something there, but he doesn’t see much need for formalities. They don’t have the time or money, and Casey actually prefers that no one can visually see a designated landing spot through satellite imagery.

Stealth: it is still one of Casey’s favorite things.

Even if building a giant dome in the middle of nowhere sort of defeats the purpose.

Pentecost ducks out of the helicopter, making quick strides across the bent grass. Casey is waiting at the entrance of the facility. If Pentecost is punctual, Casey is more so.

“Mr. Malick,” Pentecost says over the dying roar of the rotors. “I don’t have much time.”

Casey tilts his head. “Then let’s get started.”

-o-

He leads Pentecost through the facility, and they pause outside the construction. The machines are all up and running now, and the production is moving along according to schedule.

“As you can see,” Casey explains. “I hope to have the dome finished within the month. We have enough coverage to start production, though.”

Pentecost frowns. “You do realize how hard I had to work to get you the parts you’re about to receive,” he says. “You can’t afford any contamination—“

“We are up to 60 percent coverage,” Casey explains. “By the end of the week, it should be 70. After that, it’ll go even faster.”

“How will you manage dual production?” Pentecost asks.

“Even the biggest Jaegers start in the smallest pieces,” Casey says. “Jaeger production takes at least a year, and that’s with a highly qualified and streamlined facility.”

“You may not have a year,” Pentecost warns.

Casey smirks. “If the parts you promised are as good as you say, I won’t need a year,” he says. “Dome construction will be in a month; a completed Jaeger within nine months.”

Pentecost raises his eyebrows. “That’s ambitious.”

“That’s necessary,” Casey replies. “You didn’t recruit me for mediocrity.”

Pentecost regards Casey carefully. “I just want you to appreciate the severity of the demand here,” Pentecost says. “If this fails…”

“I don’t assume failure is an option,” Casey says definitively.

At that, Pentecost almost smiles. “And that is why I recruited you.”

-o-

After going over the exterior production, Casey takes Pentecost into the office. It’s Casey’s least favorite place, but he knows this is what Pentecost really wants to see: the blueprints, the progress reports, the budgeting, the recruitment schedule.

“It’s not fancy,” Casey says. “But I think we can make slow and steady progress. With no red tape to go through, things can be streamlined to the point of maximum efficiency.”

Pentecost nods, brow furrowed. “Good,” he says, flipping through the papers. “Good, good. And you’re maintaining security?”

“As best we can,” Casey says. “The good thing about the end of the world is that no one is paying attention to us. But it’s not going to last forever.”

“It doesn’t have to last forever,” Pentecost says.

“Are you still on track, then?” Casey asks.

“That’s not really your purview,” Pentecost says.

Casey is not impressed. “This isn’t just your fight,” he says. “You’re planning on closing the breach—“

“I will close the breach,” Pentecost corrects him.

Casey gives him a look. “Your confidence is impressive,” he says. “But if you truly believed that without any doubt, then why would you go through all the trouble of arranging this base as a backup plan?”

Pentecost sets his face grimly. “I can’t take chances,” he says. “Not with this much at stake.”

“And that’s my point,” Casey says. “There is a lot at stake. I’ve been working my ass off here to get this facility up off the ground, so I want to know where we stand.”

“We stand where we have before,” Pentecost says. “I will use the Jaegers left to close the breach. If we are successful, this plant will serve as a place to introduce the world to the next generation of Jaegers. Even if we win the war, the Jaeger program has important potential for defense, exploration and study.”

“And you think a fresh victory will convince the world to support us again,” Casey concludes.

“It’s not just about us,” Pentecost says. “It has to do with the quality of life following the closing of the breach. We plan on dropping a nuke in the ocean. There is going to be fallout.”

“And that’s just assuming it work,” Casey says.

Pentecost takes a breath. “And if it doesn’t, the world will need any defense it can get,” he says grimly.

Casey nods. It’s not a reassuring prognosis; it’s not a promise of success. But Casey’s done more with less. He’s ready to fight; he’s ready to finish this. Mostly, he’s just ready. “So tell me more about the shipment today.”

-o-

“Oblivion Bay was sold to a private buyer, so we agreed to clear out the biggest rubble in an attempt clear out space for the new tenants,” Pentecost explains.

Casey raises his eyebrows. “Someone wants to live there? Isn’t it still radioactive?”

“They have their reasons,” Pentecost says.

“And we’re okay with that?” Casey asks.

“They paid enough to fund this project of yours,” Pentecost says. “At this point, it doesn’t matter what their intentions are.”

“How very Machiavellian of you,” Casey surmises. “I’m impressed. I didn’t think you, of all people, would get there.”

“These are desperate times,” Pentecost says. “Which is why you can’t expect any further assistance after this point.”

“You have enough parts in the shipment?” Casey asks.

“I can’t lie to you, Malick,” Pentecost tells him. “The parts are sparse and damaged. I salvaged the best for my Mark 3 restoration.”

Casey makes a face. “Just like you, taking the best for yourself.”

“I need as much as I can to take the breach,” he says. “Besides, I thought you were all about doing the impossible.”

“The near impossible,” Casey corrects him. “You’re the one with the short straw this time.”

“All the same,” Pentecost says. “I need to know that you can do this for me. If I don’t come back—“

“I’m not a leader, Pentecost,” Casey says. “You knew that when you recruited me.”

Pentecost looks at him gravely. “I have no room for error here,” he says. “If you can’t—“

Casey shakes his head. “I can’t,” he replies honestly. “But I know someone who can.”

-o-

Pentecost doesn’t linger. They don’t belabor the details. There isn’t time, and really, it’s just not their style.

“Expect minimal contact from here on out,” Pentecost tells him as they approach the chopper.

“Are you sure you have everything you need?” Casey asks.

Pentecost gives him a small, measured smile. “You’ll know,” he says. “Either way.”

Casey extends his hand. “Either way,” he says.

Pentecost shakes his hand, nodding his head. If there’s more they want to say, neither of them will say it.

Instead, Pentecost turns toward the chopper, ducks his head and boards. Casey watches him go, securing himself in a seat while the pilot checks his gauges and lifts up into the air.

Casey watches as it takes off, catching one last glance of Stacker Pentecost, trim and proper.

A fixed point.

Even at the end of the world.

-o-

Work is moving along, and Casey finds himself restless. He’s not prone to such things, but he’s been doing this long enough.

And he’s ready for this shipment.

The whole point is to make a Jaeger. Without these parts, the rest of it is pretty stupid. Besides, Jaeger parts aren’t the only thing Casey is expecting today.

He hears the barge before he sees it, and by the time it comes up to the docks by the quarry, he’s already outside. The barge crew is scuttling about to dock and unload, but Casey smiles at the two familiar figures on deck.

Fay is easy enough to recognize with her brown curls.

The other figure…

Casey finds himself grinning, and he moves closer as the walkway is unloaded. Fay comes down first, nodding at Casey knowingly. Behind her, Michael stops. “You bastard,” he says.

Casey smirks. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

“You should have told me,” Michael says.

“I couldn’t,” he says. “You know how these things work.

“It’s not like I can’t keep a secret,” Michael tells him. “I was a spy once.”

Casey arches an eyebrow. “Yeah, and you think that matters now?”

“Why didn’t Pentecost come to me?” he asks.

“He’s running around the world, paying off everyone he can think of and trying to come up with a plan to save the world and rebuild it,” Casey says. “He just left here for Alaska to try to recruit some washed up Jaeger pilot. He’s a little busy.”

“And it took you this long to bring me in?” Michael asks incredulous. “I mean, Fay knew first?”

“Oh, don’t take it personally,” Casey says with a roll of his eyes. He sighs. “Honestly, I didn’t want to get your hopes up. I had no idea if we’d even make it this far.”

“And you don’t trust me?” Michael asks.

“No, I just don’t want to waste your time,” Casey tells him. “I know you. I know you were working on your own plans, even if you didn’t know what they were just yet. I figured whichever one of us came up with a plan first could bring the other in and we’d go with that.” He pauses. “That is what you were doing, locked up in your house by the ocean, isn’t it?”

Michael reddens duly. “Maybe.”

“See,” Casey says.

“I extrapolated some data,” Michael admits. “But I haven’t come up with a single way to approach the problem.”

“That’s good,” Casey says. “Because I haven’t got a shred of data. But I think I may have a way approach the problem.”

“You mean the Jaeger parts inside that barge?” Michael asks.

Casey finds himself grinning. “You have no idea.”

-o-

Casey takes Michael on a tour, but it seems superfluous. By the end, Michael seems to figure out things for himself with minimal introduction from Casey.

Then, he starts having ideas. “If you logged the building plans in advance, you could avoid redundancies,” Michael says while they observe construction. “It takes a bit more work upfront—“

“Hey, if you have ideas, I won’t be offended,” Casey says, holding his hands up.

Michael gives him a long look. “You sure?”

Casey chuckles. “Michael, you know me,” he says. “Am I the kind of man who likes to do paperwork?”

“I suppose not—“

“I only stuck around this far because Pentecost promised me Jaeger parts,” he says. “That’s why I’m here. As for you…”

Michael smiles knowingly. “Yeah,” he says. “I think I know why I’m here.”

As they walk on, this time Michael leads the way.

-o-

By the time they get back to the docks, the crew is already unloading while Fay directs them. Michael rubs his hands together, watching for a moment.

“So you think you can build a Jaeger out of that stuff?” he asks.

Casey gives him a sideways look.

“I was there in Oblivion Bay when they loaded up,” he says. “And I spent the last few weeks on this boat. I know the cargo. It’s not that impressive.”

Casey grunts disdainfully. “You can play marshal in this little Shatterdome,” he says. “Let me be in charge of J-tech.”

Michael rocks on his feet, nodding his head forward with a smirk. “I just want to make sure we’ll be on schedule.”

“We’re just backup, you know,” Casey reminds him.

“For now,” Michael says, squaring his shoulders as he looks out at the work. He looks a little smug. “I have a plan.”

Casey raises his eyebrows in mild interest. “For the end of the world?”

“That,” Michael says with a shrug. “And whatever might follow. I mean, after Pentecost, we’re sort of the first line of defense, right?”

“More like the only line of defense,” Casey mutters.

“We’re up for it, I think,” Michael remarks. “I mean, you’ll be in charge of J-tech. And we’ve got a good start on K-science…”

Michael’s gaze is faraway, watching as Fay instructs one of the crew.

Casey snickers. “Are you speaking as a marshal or an ex-husband?”

Michael glares at that. “I was trying to do an inventory.”

“Of your love life?” Casey asks.

“Of who we still need,” Michael replies.

“Ah,” Casey says. “Well, we’ve got a good start on the J-tech team, but I think Fay will want a few more people on the science side.”

“We talked about that on the trip up,” Michael says. “We’ve got some names.”

“Well, there is something sort of obvious,” Casey says.

“Oh?”

Casey shrugs. “If we’re going to build a Jaeger, we’re going to need pilots.”

Michael starts to grin. “Pilots, huh,” he says. He chews his lip, his smile growing. “I think I know where we can find a few of those.”

Casey can’t help it; he’s grinning to. Because this is what he’s been missing. This is what he needs. A leader; a project; a team.

The world may be ending, but for the first time since the Kaiju made land fall, Casey likes humanity’s odds